Volunteer trail builders in Fraser Valley describe provincial crackdown
Trail builders warned to stop work with signs, phone calls and personal visits
Sam Waddington and Graham Houlker smooth out a section of lumpy trail in the forest at the Lexw Qwo:m Park in Chilliwack, B.C., about an hour's drive east of Vancouver.
Houlker swings a pulaski into the soil, while Waddington uses a purpose-made trail building tool to scrape and pound the moist dirt near the edge of provincial Crown land.
The hiking and mountain biking trail snakes up a steep slope through rich, green forest. Ferns, devil's club and salal fill the space between enormous cedar and hemlock trunks.
People volunteer to build and maintain trails the local community wants to use, but they can't continue their work into the Crown land — the province has ordered the Chilliwack Parks Society, of which Houlker is a member, to cease and desist.
"I was quite shocked," said Houlker. "I haven't done any [trail building] for a few weeks now, which I'm kind of upset about."
According to Waddington, the owner of a local outdoor equipment store, the cease and desist order at Lexw Qwo:m Park is part of a larger trend of increased enforcement on unauthorized trails in the area — but in many cases, authorization is a glacially slow process.
"There is a permitting process in place, but there have been massive delays," said Waddington, who claimed some of the trails where new warning signs from the province have appeared have been waiting for approval for several years.
Waddington said he recently got a visit at his store from an enforcement officer with the Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resources. He was told to quit work on a trail near Cultus Lake on Crown land.
"Trail cameras were set up in the forest to catch some of us that were out there," he said, though he never saw the cameras and wasn't shown the photographic evidence.
Applications stretching resources
Staff at the ministry declined a CBC News interview request and instead sent a written statement.
"At this time, the Chilliwack recreation district receives more trail applications than can be reviewed by staff," it read.
"Applicants can expect the process to take about one year to determine if a new trail is authorized; more complex applications with multiple stakeholders may take longer," said the statement.
There was no explanation for the perceived crackdown taking place in recent weeks in the Fraser Valley, except that it may be "related to the increase in recreational interest in the area."
Waddington said the fines for violating the Forest and Range Practices Act could be up to $10,000. The maximum prison sentence is six months.
"I think that one of the big tragedies happening here is that you're making volunteers feel like criminals," he said. "If that's the stage we're at with our government, I think that needs to shift."
Houlker is 68 and began trail building after retiring four years ago.
"Just leave us alone to do what we want to do," he said. "We do it within boundaries. We don't do anything willy-nilly — we don't just rush at things — we think it through."
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